Administration of oral corticosteroids is associated with the development of osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures. However, the size of the treated sub-population who would benefit from preventive therapy remains uncertain. The objective of this study was to investigate the usage pattern of oral corticosteroids in a large sample representative of the general population in England and Wales. Information was obtained from the General Practice Research Database (GPRD) which contains medical records of general practitioners. Oral corticosteroid users were patients aged 18 years or older who received one or more prescriptions for oral corticosteroids. Over million oral corticosteroid prescriptions were issued to the cohort of 244 235 oral corticosteroid users. At any point in time, oral corticosteroids were being used by % of the total adult GPRD population. The highest use (%) was by people between 70 and 79 years of age. Respiratory disease was the most frequently recorded indication for oral corticosteroid treatment (40%). Patients with arthropathies were most likely to use long-term, continuous treatment, and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease least likely (% and %, respectively, used oral corticosteroids for more than 2 years). The overall use of bone-active medication (oestrogens, bisphosphonates, vitamin D, and calcitonin) during oral corticosteroid treatment was low (between % and %). The current population in the UK at risk of developing corticosteroid-induced fractures might be as large as 350 000. Identification of these patients will be important for implementing preventive strategies in a cost-effective manner.
Persons who are on drugs which suppress the immune system are more susceptible to infections than healthy individuals. Chicken pox and measles , for example, can have a more serious or even fatal course in non-immune children or adults on corticosteroids. In such children or adults who have not had these diseases, particular care should be taken to avoid exposure. How the dose, route and duration of corticosteroid administration affects the risk of developing a disseminated infection is not known. The contribution of the underlying disease and/or prior corticosteroid treatment to the risk is also not known. If exposed to chicken pox, prophylaxis with varicella zoster immune globulin (VZIG) may be indicated. If exposed to measles, prophylaxis with pooled intramuscular immunoglobulin ( IG ) may be indicated. (See the respective package inserts for complete VZIG and IG prescribing information. ) If chicken pox develops, treatment with antiviral agents may be considered. Similarly, corticosteroids should be used with great care in patients with known or suspected Strongyloides (threadworm) infestation. In such patients, corticosteroid-induced immunosuppression may lead to Strongyloides hyperinfection and dissemination with widespread larval migration, often accompanied by severe enterocolitis and potentially fatal gram -negative septicemia .